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Quid deceat, quid non, obliti : Cærite cerà
Hor. A GRAND difficulty experienced by those who lead the devotions of an assembly in oral prayer,
perversely from their thinking more of men than of God. Prayer ought to be simple, sincere, sensible, and short. In order to this, he who makes it, should be free from embarrassment. But how is this freedom to be attained ? I answer-Simply by forgetting man in the remenbrance of God. As the light of the risen sun sweeps all all other luminaries into comparative darkness, veiling their brightness beneath the effulgence of his own; as the sun must be absent that the stars may appear, and the mantle of night must enwrap us before those tiny twinklers are discernible; so God, when the mind regards him as he is in himself and as the only object of religious worship, God appears all in all, his presence is felt, and the presence of man is sunk and forgotten in view of the supremacy and ubiquity of God. “Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men ;-for ye serve the Lord Christ. Now the Lord is that spirit: and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” The influence is inevitable--the cause is faulty that prevents so many enlisted soldiers of Christ from engaging in this service; they are idolaters ; they worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator.
But are there no real Christians, who desert this service through conscious incompetency, and more from love to the cause than fear for themselves? This may possibly be the case-still, it is wrong
No man is a competent judge of his own competency. It pertains to the church to appreciate, and graduate, and regulate the gifts of the members. If the church view a man as competent, he has no right to veto the decision, or without special reason and permission, to bury his talents in a napkin or conceal them under a cloak.
But what if he be illiterate-if he have idioms and phrases of his own which are offensive—if he make mistakes and expose himself to ridicule from the impious? I answer- let him cultivate and improve bis gifts, let him bear to be told of his inelegancies and blunders, and wherein he has offended let him do so no more, but let bim “please his neighbour for his good to edification: for even Christ pleased not himself."
To be the monitor of private individuals in particular churches, implies the duty of correcting particular and personal infelicities in the exercise of praying gifts. But as you, Mr. Editor, are THE MONITOR of the Christian public, whithersoever your numbers may come, greeting, permit me to remark on some public and common irregularities in prayer, which are noticeable in both clerical and laical performances.
These may be clasified under three heads-multiplied and inappropriate epithets of praise and invocation; exceptionable expressions; and abuses of Scripture.
All these evidently result in whole or in part from inattention or carelessness and these were objects of reference in the selection of the motto at the head of this paper, which I shall thus-rather liberally-translate.
Reckless of what degrades them or befits,
Err'd in the act or aim of doing good. 1. I would animadvert on the use of multiplied and in
appropriate epithets of invocation and praise. Take an an example and one of the least exceptionable-- Supremely great, transcendently glorious, and infinitely exalted, Lord, our God.” This mode of address to God is so common in some districts of our country, and used so regularly twice-a-day in some families, that children know the words by rote and anticipate the speaker when he utters them. It is a style indeed appropriate to the divine name abstractly considered, but—in my opinion-inappropriate to the uses and ends of supplication. It offends against simplicity. It is wordy and even vain. What example of a Scriptural Saint warrants or records such vain glorious phraseology ? “Our Father who art in heaven”--is a very different and a much more pious and acceptable form of invocation. It is inappropriate too because so general. When the assembled church at Jerusalem, previous to the day of Pentecost, were about electing a successor of the apostate Iscariot, and had placed Joseph and Matthias before them 56 they prayed, and said, thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show whether of these two thou hast chosen, that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship,” &r.. How appropriately is the attribute of omniscience respected here. There is nothing general. We see no waste of words and no want of dignity. The Scriptures abound with such instances. See also Acts iy 23-30.
2. Exceptionable expressions. This is a very general and perhaps indefinite statement. I shall illustrate its meaning however with two examples from thousands, which might be adduced. “O Lord, be reconciled to us !" Whatever this may or may not mean, it were better to say— Reconcile thou us unto thyself, through Jesus Christ." God is perfectly right and therefore cannot be reconciled to us as if we were the standards; and when we are reconciled to him, “the agony is over,” all is well and we shall be saved. Once more.
In praying for ministers, how often do we hear it requested that one may be 66 a long and a lasting blessing to his people.” Long and lasting cannot both refer to time without tautology: if they do
not mean the same thing, then as lasting refers to darability, long must refer to the extent of personal perpendicularity! I have seen some preachers, who might perhaps have been benefitted by an augmentation of their longitude ; to become two feet taller would scarcely hurt them—but, unless their people mean to pray for this, let them say, “ Make him a rich and lasting blessing to us and our children." The exceptionable phrase is so ridiculous in itself that I could scarcely treat it at all without sarcasm.
Familiarity with the Scriptures and readiness in quotation are powerful auxiliaries and even rules of prayer. But here we should be careful: 1. Never to use words without knowing what we mean by them; and 2. Never, without special reason, wrest the scriptural meaning of the passage ;-of which more in remarking. 3. On abuses of Scripture.
66 God out of Christ is a consuming fire,” is an expression often wrought into prayer--and it is true ; but there is no such text; nay, the alteration perverts its meaning. See Heb. xii. 29, “For our God [God in Christ] is a consuming fire." He will not indeed consume us, if we be his sincere worshippers: still, this is his character! and of this there are, besides Nadab and Abihu, thousands of monuments! and thus it is adduced as a reason why we should " worship God acceptably, with reverence and Godly fear”-a duty from which neither saints on earth, nor saints in glory, nor sinless seraphim are exonerated.
Lift on us the light of thy reconciled countenance." Is the passage improved, think you, by the addition of the participle ? See Psalm iv, 6. Is there no loveliness in the very countenance of God that inakes it desirable ? or is he wont to lift it on his toes, or to darken its lifted light, with a judicial scowl?
Hos. xiii. 9, contains a beautiful sentiment and a fin. ished expression. How bad their taste who think to improve while they accommodate it in prayer, saying,
we have destroyed ourselves; but in thee is our help found! In God alone is our help-whether we ever find it is another matter.
Psalm cxxxix. 24, is often thus altered, with the de
prosper in his
sign, no doubt, to improve it. “See if there be any fatally wicked way in us !" The inference is that such an one loves sin but not punishment, and wishes only so much of his wickedness to be expelled from his interior as consists not with his safety.
Isaiah iii. 10, last sentence, and Heb. ii. 13, latter part, are often abused in an idolatrous application to ministers of the gospel, while they properly and exclusively appertain to Jesus Christ. The first is often altered with the word cause or work for pleasure of the Lord; and the prayer is that it may
Now, 6 who art thou, O man ?” Is the cause in thy hand or in Christ's ? I know a Christian whovery properly-thus accommodates it, “ Let the pleasure of the Lord prosper in thine own hand, through his instrumentality?
Concerning the second, it can be said that, though properly applicable to Christ, it may be accommodated to ministers. From this, for one, I dissent. God will not give his glory to another, neither his praise to consequential ministers. It would be more modest, quite as becoming, and equally appropriate to refer to 1 Thes. ii. 19, 20, where a crown of rejoicing---not of dominion, rivalry, or self-importance---all studded with living and immortal gems, even souls converted to God by them, is rapturously anticipated for all faithful and humble preachers.
We ought to cultivate our gifts and exercise them not that ourselves, but--that our Father in heaven, s may be glorified." Perhaps few are sensible how much of their barrenness may be traced to causes as unworthy of them as pride, fear of man, or negligence of due preparation and furniture. The noblest object of am- bition that ever winged the efforts of man, the purest ingredients of character that ever distinguished a saint, have here their manifesto and epitome--to do aood unto all men, as we have opportunity, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.